Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Cuadecuc, vampir – review

Director: Pere Portabella

Release date: 1971

Contains spoilers

In the introduction to The Cambridge Companion to Dracula, editor Roger Luckhurst talks about Cuadecuc, vampir and calls it “probably the most provoking adaptation of Dracula you have never seen”. He describes the reception thusly, it “was shown at the Cannes film festival to acclaim but was immediately banned in Spain. Although there is nothing explicitly stated, the fascist authorities that tightly controlled cultural expression got the message loud and clear. Count Dracula is meant to represent the undead dictator Franco”.

fascism drains Spain's vitality
This rebellion is difficult to see as a viewer not part of the region, nor under the regime, over forty years after its release. To this outsider, it is in the title that the rebellion of the film is revealed. I watched the Blu-ray release of the film in preparation of the review – and that is titled Vampir Cuadecuc, but I have used the original inverted title for the review. The word cuadecuc means ‘worm’s tail’ in Catalan but it also describes the unexposed end of a film reel. When it was filmed, the Catalan language had been brutally banned by the Fascist regime in Spain and using it (or even reading it) could be punished by a public lashing or jail sentences.

high contrast black and white
For those who are unaware of this film then you must understand that when Jess Franco made Count Dracula (1970) he allowed Pere Portabella and a small crew to film the filming. This does not make Cuadecuc, vampir a ‘making of’ Franco’s movie. It is much more (and less, in some ways) than that. Portabella makes a movie of Dracula, vampirising Franco’s production. However, he films in a high contrast black and white and this brings Dreyer’s Vampyr aesthetically to mind. The use of film as the medium of vampirism also brings Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens to mind, in which the death of the vampire is reminiscent of the death of film exposed to the sun.

Christopher Lee
But as well as telling the story – visually, the majority of the film is without any dialogue, only changing at the end where Christopher Lee speaks to the camera, explaining the run up to the death of Dracula in the novel before reading that extract. However it is the moments that are behind the scene where the film finds its deepest expression. An actor plays to the camera before Franco’s filming starts, Lee removes his face covering (as the coachman) and gives the camera a cheeky grin and a wave, we see someone with a smoke machine walking the path before Harker’s coach thunders along the (now) foggy road to be filmed. One of my favourite images was Lee led in his coffin as a crew member sprays fake cobwebs up his body.

spraying cobwebs
The film has a near perfect crap bat moment as Portabella films Franco’s bat effect, making no effort to hide the wires the rubber bat flies along. Bizarrely Klaus Kinski does not appear in the film (he plays Renfield in the parent production), which seems odd given the power of his performance. There is no dialogue but there is sound. Carles Santos creates a soundscape of tonal and ambient movements, sometimes taking modern (at the time) pieces and letting them play as a theme and then destroying them. Industrial noises invade the scenes and the soundtrack is strangely very modern (to now) in an avant-garde, experimental way.

a bride
Now you might be thinking that it sounds awful and on paper it might be that it should be, or at least be nothing more than a fleeting curio of cinema. However, it is a mesmerising mood piece that sucks the viewer in – or at least it did with me. I will say its likely to be a love it or hate it art film, but I was taken by it, I found it a much stronger piece of cinema than that constructed by Franco. Perhaps the music, the black and white and the stronger photography in general, the post-modernism that doesn’t recognise that a fourth wall even exists, the underlying rebellion. I don’t know. But for me this gets a strong 6 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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